10 defaults you can change to make Word 2016 work your way

Stop modifying every document with the same changes. Customize a few default settings and you won't have to work so hard!


Image: iStock/AntonioGuillem

Out of the box, Word does a reasonable job of anticipating how most of us work. However, you'll still find a few things you change almost every time you start a new document, and doing so quickly becomes annoying. Why not change these options permanently? That way, every new document opens ready to go, so you can be a bit more productive.

Of course, "permanently" simply means the behavior persists until you change it again; you can revert to the out-of-the box setting or to another setting anytime you want. But with the right tweaks, your custom settings can save you a lot of time. In this article, I'll show you 10 defaults you can reset; these are the features readers contact me about the most.

Many of these changes are to application-level settings, but a few customize the Normal template. As a rule, I recommend that you not modify Normal or that you make few customizations. It's not bad—you're not going to blow up Word—but users often forget about the customizations and are later confused when the template isn't working as expected. There are a few important things to remember when you customize the Normal template:

  • If Word encounters a corrupt Normal file, it will generate a new one, which won't include your customizations.
  • If the Normal template is deleted (it shouldn't happen, but it could), Word will generate a new version, which won't include your customizations.
  • If you upgrade, Word might generate a new Normal template file, which won't include your customizations.
  • If you share files with others, your customizations might conflict with theirs. Specifically, your Word files might not look the same on someone else's system.

Knowledge is power, so customize Normal fully informed and prepared for what might happen (but seldom does).

I'm using Word 2016 (desktop) on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but most of these defaults apply to earlier versions. There's no demonstration file to download. Note: You can't reset defaults using the browser version.

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1: Line spacing

Once Microsoft started pushing Office documents toward the web, it changed the default line spacing to 1.15. It provides a looser informal look. It looks good if you're generating web content. If you're not—and most of us aren't—change that default setting to 1 as follows:

  1. Right-click Normal in the Styles Quick gallery, choose Modify, and then choose Paragraph from the Format list. You can also right-click a document's background or inside a paragraph and choose Paragraph.
  2. In the Spacing section, change the At setting from 1.15 to 1, as shown in Figure A. Or change Multiple to Single.
  3. If enabled, click Set As Default and click OK. If Set As Default isn't enabled, click OK and then click the New Documents Based On This Document option at the bottom. Click OK and click Yes if prompted to make the change to the default template.

Figure A

Adjust the line spacing for all documents.

You might be wondering about the Multiple setting. A Multiple setting of 1 is similar to Single, but they're not the same. The Line Spacing setting determines how Word handles spacing when a line has more than one font size. The distinction won't matter to most of us. In addition, line spacing isn't always the same size as the font. Many fonts use a smaller measurement for line spacing.

2: Smart quotes

Despite Word's advancements toward collaborative tools, smart quotes still cause trouble when dropped into HTML and certain mobile file formats. You'd think disabled would be the default, but it's not. If you press Ctrl+Z after typing a quote mark, Word will convert that smart quote to a straight quote—but that can get old in a hurry. A better plan might be to turn smart quotes off, as follows:

  1. Click the File menu and choose Options.
  2. Choose Proofing in the left pane.
  3. Click AutoCorrect Options in the AutoCorrect Options section.
  4. Click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.
  5. Uncheck the Straight Quotes With Smart Quotes option in the Replace As You Type section (Figure B).

Figure B

Disable smart quotes for the current and all new documents.

3: Paste Special

By default, Word retains the source formatting when you paste content. If you're pasting from foreign sources or another document, that might mean double work because you must change the formatting to match the current document's formatting after the paste task. If this happens infrequently, you can use the appropriate option in the Paste dropdown (in the Clipboard group). But if your formatting update happens often, reset the option's default to suit your needs, as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. Select Advanced in the left pane.
  3. In the Cut, Copy, And Paste section, select the Use Destination Styles (Default) option from the Pasting Between Documents When Style Definitions Conflict dropdown.
  4. If you copy a lot of text from foreign sources, choose the Keep Text Only option from the Pasting From Other Programs dropdown (Figure C).
  5. Click OK to return to your document.

Figure C

This option is more flexible than it used to be.

As you can see, there are several options available. Select those that meet your needs the best. This is one of my favorite default changes.

4: Default file location

If you're using Windows 10, your Office apps default to OneDrive when saving. However, you have a Word option that works similarly but save files locally. Word's local default is your User Documents library, but you can change it as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. In the left pane, select Save.
  3. In the Save Documents section, enter the folder where you want to save Word documents in the Default Local File location, as shown in Figure D.
  4. Click OK.

Figure D

Tell Word where to save your documents.

SEE: 30 things you should never do in Microsoft Office (free TechRepublic PDF)

5: Paragraph spacing

By default, Word adds a bit of white space after each paragraph when you press Enter at the end of a line. This white space isn't a blank line; it's part of the paragraph leading. If you want paragraphs to flow from one into another without that white space, change the default as follows:

  1. Click the Home tab and then click the Paragraph group's dialog launcher.
  2. Check the Don't Add Space Between Paragraphs Of The Same Style option in the Spacing section (Figure E).
  3. Click the Set As Default option and then click OK.

Figure E

Eliminate the white space between paragraphs.

6: The Mini toolbar display

Many users like the Mini toolbar, which displays formatting options when you select text. It annoys me, and it's one of the first things I disable after an upgrade. You can press Esc to dismiss it, so it's not a big deal. But if you never use it (like me), go ahead and disable it as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. Choose General in the left pane.
  3. In the User Interface Options section, uncheck the Show Mini Toolbar On Selection option (Figure F).
  4. Click OK.

Figure F

Uncheck this option to disable the Mini toolbar.

7: The Normal style

In #1, you changed the line spacing setting for Word's template. Another template setting that users like to customize is the font and font size. To change them for all documents, do the following:

  1. Right-click Normal in the Styles gallery (in the Styles group on the Home tab).
  2. Choose Modify.
  3. In the resulting dialog, make your changes.
  4. After making your changes, click the New Documents Based On This Template option (Figure G).
  5. Click OK.

Figure G

Change the Normal style in your Normal template.

8: Word selection

When you highlight part of a word and then extend that selection to the next word, Word automatically selects the whole word for you. Word's trying to help, but it can be annoying if that's not what you want. Fortunately, you can disable this setting:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. Select Advanced in the left pane.
  3. In the Editing options section, uncheck the When Selecting Automatically Select Entire Word option (Figure H).
  4. Click OK.

Figure H

Stop selecting entire words.

9: Spelling, grammar, and formatting

Word likes to help us by identifying misspelled words, grammatical errors, and formatting inconsistencies, as we type:

  • A red line indicates a word not found in the dictionary (possibly misspelled, possibly correct as is).
  • A green line indicates a possible grammatical error.
  • A wavy blue line indicates an inconsistent format.

I don't recommend that you disable these features; doing so makes you vulnerable to mistakes you might easily miss when proofing your work. If, on the other hand, you're writing the great American novel, you might find them distracting. The good news is, if you really must, you can disable them as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options.
  2. Select Proofing in the left pane.
  3. In the When Correcting Spelling And Grammar In Word section, uncheck the appropriate options, as shown in Figure I.
  4. Click Advanced in the left pane to continue.
  5. In the Editing options section, uncheck the Mark Formatting Inconsistencies option (Figure J).
  6. Click OK.

Figure I

Disable spelling and grammar indicators.

Figure J

Disable the formatting indicator.

10: Margins

Lastly, let's tackle one more default option that affects your Normal template—margins. Fortunately, that option is also easy to change:

  1. Click the Layout tab.
  2. In the Page Setup group, click the Margins option.
  3. From the dropdown, choose Custom Margins.
  4. In the resulting dialog, set your custom margins (Figure K). You can also change orientation and many other layout options.
  5. When you're done, click Set As Default and click Yes to confirm that you're changing the template.
  6. Click OK.

Figure K

Set the custom margins.

Work your way

There are many default settings you can change at the application level or to the template. Don't stop with the 10 I've mentioned. Any time you find yourself repeating the same task frequently, check for a default setting to change.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at

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About Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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